Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Where the sacred meets the secular...a rambling.

For the past few weeks in our weekly PCM Bible study (Break@8), we've been sharing song lyrics that have significance to us--particularly theological significance. I brought one in first, just to sort of set the tone and expectations. Yes, it was an Indigo Girls song...The Wood Song. Oddly, it's my favorite song, and I have yet to hear it live. Sad. Anyway, it's been fun to share the songs together, to delve deeply into the lyrics with each other and see where the secular might intersect with the sacred. We've had Coldplay, Jars of Clay, U2, and Switchfoot. It's an exercise that has reminded me of the uncertainty of youth, and the search for answers that, when you are a young adult, you think will eventually come. But they don't. What happens, I think, is that if you're lucky, you get comfortable with the fact that there are very few, if any, real answers to the questions that matter most. I don't think life is about finding "the answer." Life is about the conversations that we have along the way as we search for it, knowing that we'll never really find "it." And being okay with that.

I heard a preacher (I think it was Vic Pentz) criticize the ancient fable about the blind men and the elephant. You know the one. It is the story of six blind men who visit the palace of the Rajah and encounter an elephant for the first time.

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. "How smooth! An elephant is like a wall." The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. "How round! An elephant is like a snake." The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear." The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. "How tall! An elephant is like a tree." The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan." The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope."

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was correct. The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony. "The elephant is big," he said. "Each man touched only one part. You must put all parts together to find out what an elephant is like."

This pastor made a formidable argument against using that analogy for God. Likewise, "serious problems" with the elephant argument can be found here as well: http://www.ptm.org/98PT/SepOct/Elephant.htm But I still like to think of God's Truth as an elephant. We are each holding on for dear life to the part of God that we've been given, the part that is more proximal to us, or just the part that someone else showed us a long time ago. And the part that we're holding onto is comfortable, and we feel as if we know it. But that's not all there is to the beast. I don't know about you, but I'm glad that I don't know all there is to know about God. The God I worship is living and dynamic. Stable yet fluid. Incomprehensible yet personal. Mysterious yet certain. The ultimate paradox.

I fear that many young adults today see religion, and Christianity in particular, as a way of life that limits one's intellectual self, as if one must choose between being an intellectual and being a person of faith. And truthfully, for too many years, Christians were guilty of believing they possessed the truth, that they fully knew God, and even owned God. But thanks to brilliant minds who asked and addressed really tough questions, our view of God is wider and bigger than it was a century ago. And thanks to brilliant minds who continue to ask and address really tough questions, our view of God GETS wider and bigger with each passing day.

Our challenge is not an easy one. We Christians have dug quite a hole for ourselves. But I've got my shovel and I'm going to work, one scoop at a time, until the hole is filled. I pray that one day, we will ALL be able to look around us and see the fullness of the world that God created, and all the many gifts of wonder and diversity that it has to offer.

And so as I work among these college students, I hope to share with them ways that I see God at work in places where we might least expect it. I hope to share with them how they can see God at work in the simple moments of each day if we but keep our eyes open and our minds willing. I hope to share with them how God can use people even when they are not believers, or even when their personal intent is somehow different. I hope I can impress upon them that God really is bigger than any labels or any faith tradition. And I hope, most of all, that can help them be at peace with the fact that there really aren't any always-reliable, always-right answers to life's greatest questions. God just IS, and that's okay.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I truly love the concept of blogging. It helps me to keep my eyes open to those "glimpses of grace" (http://glimpses-of-grace.blogspot.com/ is my friend Whitney's blog...it's one of my favorites) in my day to day life. The problem is that while I see these glimpses of grace everywhere, my life is not conducive to writing them down as often as I would like.

For instance, yesterday as I was leaving Java Monkey from a wonderful lunch / break with my friend Wendy (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713636122&ref=ts), I encountered a young man who was apparently blind, learning how to use his cane. He was maybe 10 or 12, lean, with chocolate brown skin. There was a thirty or forty-something year old gentleman, obvioulsy sighted, giving the young man instruction. It was a beautiful sight. As I watched I couldn't help but think about the way we help each other navigate our faith life. There are people in my life, as I'm sure there are in yours as well, who watch me flounder around with my cane, learning my way, correcting me gently when I make a misstep. As is said in seminary, "That will preach." One day.

However, it's not always glimpses of grace that strike me, but sometimes it's "periods of panic." Like seeing the back of my son's Georgia History teacher's truck.

I knew early on that we would have "issues" with him. It's inevitable that you will have issues with at least one teacher when you have a 13-year-old son who can be both adorable and a real jerk simultaneously. I love Adam, but...well...he's thirteen. Very Thirteen. Anyway, those who know me well know that I love bumper sticker theology. You can pretty much tell which way I lean just by examining the back of my van..."God bless the people of every nation," "COEXIST," and the HRC flag adorn my back window, along with a Rehoboth / PCUSA sticker, a "Life is good" sticker and a sticker of a coffee cup. So I pay attention to people's bumper stickers. Here is what I discovered on the back of Mr. Chambers truck.

"George Bush is saving your ass whether you like it or not."
"I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than drive with Ted Kennedy."
"Cats--the other white meat"
"National Rifle Association"
"University of Georgia" (Okay, so I have no problem with that one...)

Now, what I really want to do is make my own sticker and sneak it onto the back of his car. It would say "Dear Friend, Jesus Christ saved my ass two thousand years ago. George Bush is not saving asses--he's making an ass of himself."

But then, I went to his teacher website and realized that I'd be fighting a losing battle. http://fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us/~CHRISTOPHER_S_CHAMBERS/. Sigh. I guess we'll just have to endure. He's just such a far cry from his last year's social studies teacher, Thomas Bodnar. (He is Diane Thorne's son, for those of you in the CTS community. http://fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us/~THOMAS_R_BODNAR/ All last year, Adam was excited about religion, politics, and all things related. It was a wonderful year. Sigh. I miss Mr. Bodnar.

And while I'm on the topic of bumper stickers, another one I saw in the middle school parking lot said: "Directions to heaven--Turn right and stay together." Does "turn right" mean "repent?" Does it mean "right" as in right-left / conservative-liberal? And what's with "stay together?" I'm not so sure I like the theology of that--as if we should just be a huddled mass as we travel the road to heaven. Whatever. There was another sticker on that car, but I wasn't able to read it. I'm dying to know what it said. Maybe I can find the car again and report on it.

So anyway, glimpses of grace...periods of panic. I don't know about you, but I suppose I am grateful for them both, for each one, I believe, makes me a better person. Each one encourages me to reflect on my life and the lives of those around me. And that's always a good thing. Just ask my new friend, the Dalai Lama.

Monday, October 15, 2007


If he were a garbage collector or a construction worker, then he wouldn't be the same Joel that I've known and loved for all these years. With that said, I'm glad he does what he does. It's even better that God has called him to a place where he works amidst many loving, supportive, encouraging, grateful folks who appreciate who he is and the work God is doing through them at the church they serve. It's time for me to focus HARD on the positive and not let the negative get me down. I'm letting go of it, because I've realized that I just can't carry it around with me anymore. It's just too self-destructive.

Here's to a better day!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


So I'm beginning to wish I were married to a garbage collector...or a contstruction worker...or someone who did something rather mundane that could be a 9 to 5 job. I'll bet the hourly pay would be much better, and I wouldn't be surprised if the overall salary were better either. And I can't imagine that talk of garbage or construction would dominate our lives, or that people would come up with such a variety of creative excuses for missing work (and if they did, well...who cares?!), or that the system in place would bow to the whims and wishes of one half-crazy employee, just because he or she has "always been like that." A garbage collector's Thursday work probably wouldn't be interrupted, forcing him to go back on Saturday afternoon--his day off--to finish the job that the garbage wouldn't let him finish on Thursday. A construction worker's day off on Friday wouldn't have to be traded for working on Saturday, but would really and truly be a day off--or if it did, he'd at least make overtime pay for the work. And his vacation days that were "left over" at the end of the year wouldn't just disappear, but might be bought back, or possibly carry over. After all, what's the point of taking vacation at all when you're always on call anyway? If I were married to a garbage collector or a construction worker, I'll bet we could even sleep in on Sunday mornings if we really needed or wanted to, or have an occasional weekend getaway like a "normal" family. We could enjoy lazy Sunday afternoons at home, and have Sunday supper together before the week begins again. If only he were a garbage collector or a construction worker.

Then again, I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I probably would be miserable as the wife of a garbage collector or construction worker. I doubt life would be any easier, and probably even harder. I'm just really caught up on how incredibly stuck I feel on THIS side of the fence today, that's all.

I hope it's okay to curse God, to be really angry at God, because right now I am. Damn this call.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My new friend

Today I went up to the boys' elementary school to help corral the kids for school pictures. I was not looking forward to it, but have been wanting to help out more at school this year, and the timing was right for my schedule. So I agreed to do it.

It was a rather mundane task, for the most part except for one student. He's my newest friend. His name is Reggie, and he is visually impaired. I'm guessing he's probably 11 or 12 years old, and is the most amazing kid. All smiles, great personality, and handsome to boot. He uses his cane with such proficiency, and has a great attitude towards others and was a wonderful friend. We chatted as we walked down the hall together, and I told him how impressed I was with the way he could get around.

"I've been here a long time!" he told me. "But I'm going to a new school on the 16th."

"Oh really?" I asked. "Where?"

"In Macon," he replied.

"Wow! Are you excited?"

"Yeah, but I can only come home on the weekends, so I'll miss my friends."

We continued to make our way down the hall, then got to the picture room. His hand grazed my travel mug as he made his way to the waiting chairs. "Someone has coffee," he said.

I was amazed. I guess he could smell it. "Yep, that's my coffee," I told him.

"Can I have some?" he asked, grinning beautifully.

"Oooooh, Reggie--I'm pretty selfish with my coffee." He laughed.

A few minutes later, I needed to go get another class, so I bid Reggie farewell. "Smile big for your picture now, Reggie. I'm leaving my coffee here--don't you go drinking it!"

My new friend laughed. "I'm gonna eat it all up!" he said with a big grin.

What a cool kid. What a wonderful morning.

My success for the day

Today was the day I taught the Jonah lesson at DPC. It went really well, and it further convinces me that we really do need to work harder at our adult Christian Education. The paper I wrote for the Abdullah award at graduation was all about making the church school hour more interesting. (It was actually supposed to be titled "How to Make the Sunday School Hour the Most Interesting Hour of the Week," although I altered it to be the "Adult Sunday School Hour." And honest to God, it was the ONLY award whose title drew snickers from those attending graduation as it was read aloud. Now on one hand, that didn't bother me one bit because it was a 500 cash prize, therefore making it worth a few snickers. But on a higher level it did, because what does that say about the seriousness with which we take Christian education? Anyway...)

Anyway, today I went out on a limb with this lesson and taught in a way that included learning styles other than the typical verbal and auditory to which most adults are accustomed. There were about 60 women there, mostly age 60+. After going thru the five main learning styles very briefly, I made my case for doing more than just talking at them. I handed out a coloring picture of Jonah, and as expected, they looked at me like I was crazy. "You want us to color??" one of them asked. I smiled and replied, "If you'd like to." I had left a few crayons on each table, then went about the business of "interpreting the lesson," which is what they call it. We talked about much of what I wrote in the previous Jonah post, then I closed with having them cut out pre-made heart chains (think old-fashioned paper dolls) that I had tucked into construction paper whales. The four heart of the chain bore the words "God's love and grace," to hopefully remind them that the story of Jonah is about more than a fish and a man. It's about God's amazing love and grace that reaches far beyond where we might expect. The women loved the cut-out activity. They loved the lesson and many of them asked questions or made comments to me afterwards. It was great! But the best part was that the fact that when the lesson was over, there were quite a few pictures of Jonah scattered among the tables, colored by grandmothers who had probably not colored in years. And I'll bet...I'll just bet...that it's a lesson and a story they won't soon forget. I'd call it a success.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A stupid little thing...

Okay, this is a really stupid thing to write in a blog about, but I decided I needed a "lighter" post tonight. Besides, if Adam Walker Cleveland (http://www.pomomusings.com/) can get away with some of the stuff he writes in his blog, then surely I can write about this. The reference to the Mexican restaurant in the previous post made me crave a trip to Los Bravos, so Joel and I went there for lunch today. They have very nice bathrooms. Today, I noticed that they had a new paper towel dispenser. It's a cool little contraption, not at all annoying like those stupid motion sensor things which I can never get to work. (I understand they are "more sanitary," and that they "consume less," but the darn things just don't work very well.) Anyway, the (apparently new) one in the ladies room at Los Bravos is by a company called Tork. I tried to find it on their website, but it's not listed, so maybe it's a new product. At any rate, if you are a woman in the Decatur area, check it out the next time you're in there. It gets two thumbs up from me! And if you, by some odd chance, are in need of an institutional paper towel dispenser, I highly recommend this one for ease of use and customer satisfaction.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Just another fish story?

So I'm the "Bible interpreter" for the October circle meetings for the Presbyterian Women of Decatur Pres this coming Tuesday. I went last month to hear Todd Speed "introduce" the year's study on Jonah and Ruth, and I did a loose "textual study" with the Emory PCM students for our weekly Bible study, Break@8, one Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago. And as I do when I preach, I've spent pockets of time here & there giving thought to the whole Jonah story in preparation for this lesson next week. Finally, this morning I sat down to study the actual lesson and begin my final preparation.

The writer of the lesson suggests that the story of Jonah in / was intended to be parody--that there is great humor lace throughout that, while it might not be obvious today, would be glaring in the time of its origin. For instance--Jonah does not meet his "call" to prophecy in the "expected" way. He does not humbly and quietly respond "Who me, Lord? Who am I but a small boy / girl, and of what use can I be to you?" As a matter of fact, Jonah doesn't SAY anything at all. he just merely walks away--heading in the other direction as fast as he can. Now, I guess I can see where this might be humorous. But as a second career seminarian, married to a second career seminarian, I guess this might just hit too close to home to be humorous...this response that is decidedly closed-mouth that sends Jonah running in the OTHER direction. Been there, done that. And yes, I did eventually go to Ninevah, kicking and screaming and dragging my heels all th way. But perhaps I'm just not far enough into my story to see the humor yet. Whatever...

Then there's the matter of the sailors, the supposedly "pious" sailors. Surely you have heard the phrase "curse like a sailor?" Well, sailors in Jonah's day were of the same reptuation. One did not typically use the adjective "pious" to describe sailors. So that's the other humorous bit, according to the writer of this lesson--the enounter Jonah has with the pious sailors is something that would obviously NOT happen in Jonah's day. And the fact that the write talks of pious sailors would have been hilarious to early readers. Well, okay...

But what struck me as most humorous is not the irony that might be found in the story itself, but the fact that, in more recent days, MUCH effort has gone into attempting to prove that a fish large enough to swallow a man could have actually existed. Seriously. If you doubt, here are just a couple of references to check out.
^ The Scientific Monthly, March, 1940, p. 227
^ "Essays of an Atheist," Woolsey Teller. Copyright 1945, The Truth Seeker Company, Inc.,

Surely others find that humorous, yes? Much like the quest for the historical Jesus, this grasping for scientific proof of the plausibility of a story found in the Bible is so far off the mark, in my opinion. I find myself time and time again returning to Barth's "I couldn't care less if snakes could talk. What I'm interested in is what the snake said" anecdote which I first heard in Brueggemann's OT Survey class in the Fall of 2002. But then I'm reminded of what Rodger used to tell us in CE classes when we studied developmental theory with him--that most people NEVER reach Piaget's formal operational stage of development. Hmmmm...

So where does that leave us? Are those of us who are willing to wrestle and struggle with the text on a less literal level destined to forever be at odds with those who consider the Bible to be THE Word of God, giving it even more authority than the Living, Walking, Breathing Word of God that we see in Christ himself? What do we do with the person who holds up the Bible and claims that "This is the only one I answer to!" as if the words alone on those pages hold any contextual relevance for us today all by themselves? Not that they are insignficant, mind you. But the words alone--apart from the God we continue to come to know on a daily basis, both through studying about the life of Jesus Christ and through faithful conversations about those "insignificant" words found on the pages of the Bible with fellow believers--have little or no meaning or relevancy to most folks today.

So those literalists can go on about their business of trying to prove that one could actually be swallowed by a whale, survive for 72 hours in his belly, then be vomited out. But as for me, I am far more concerned about what went on in Jonah's head while he was in that fish's belly. I am far more curious about what God said to Jonah while he languished amongst that whale's entrails. And finally, I am far more amazed at how God can, will, and does use a variety of nasty, dirty, smelly, disgusting, yucky "fish bellies" today to give us thick-headed humans time to reflect on God's call to us, and dare I say, interact with God's very self.

So okay, yes, I understand that time in the bellies of fish can be a good thing...an experience that strengthens one's faith and bolsters one's witness. But please, God, if I promise that I can reflect on and interact with you in a Mexican restaurant just as well, couldn't you send me there for spell instead? I'm growing a bit weary of fish bellies.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I was angry this morning. Surely you could tell by reading that last post. After stewing around and huffing and puffing and ranting and raving, I was still angry after lunch. I headed down to my "studio," which is actually our garage that houses my wheel, kiln, clay, etc. and busied myself by making a few coffee mugs. (I'm making them to sell at a friend's coffee shop.) I made three fairly quickly, and sat staring at another lump of clay.

For anyone who has never thrown on a wheel, or hasn't heard me talk about the therapeutic benefits of it, just know that it can be a healing process. When I sit at a wheel, time seems to stop. I am immersed in the act of creating--of readying, centering, opening, raising, and shaping a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel. It is a wonderful thing for me.

So anyway, the lump of clay and I just sat there, looking at one another. "What do you want to be?" I asked it. With anger still welling up in my heart, the word "healing" popped into my mind, and the clay and I decided it should be a chalice. I'm not great at making communion plates, but I've gotten pretty good at making chalices. So I quickly whipped up a chalice top--the part the wine / juice goes into. Then I began to craft the bottom, or the stem. This is really only slightly harder to do, mainly because the natural inclination, for me anyway, is to pull the clay outward so that it begins to resemble a bowl. But with the stem of a chalice, it must be bigger at the bottom, and go inward as it rises. There are tricks to make it do that, and since I'm not yet good enough to do it easily, I rely on those tricks. Usually they work for me. But today I bombed. I can usually salvage my mistakes, but today I gave up on not one, but two chalice bottoms. See, the key is that when you make a chalice, you have to make the bottom and top in one sitting, or else it's a hassle to make sure they dry at the same rate and are ready to assemble at the same time. So NOT making one is not an option I usually give myself. Finally, on my third attempt, I got the message the clay (?) was sending me. I made a stem for this chalice that was / is far from perfect. It twists grotesquely from bottom to top, and looks as if it was forced into its shape rather than gradually and carefully coerced and cajoled into its shape. Hmmmm...

I don't know what this experience means for me and my anger right now--I'm still pondering it. But I do know that I look forward to assembling the chalice, with its beautiful top and grotesque-looking stem. Perhaps I will glaze it and keep it nearby as a reminder. There's something there about the power of a heavy hand and the way that it can hinder creation, reconciliation, growth, healing, and wholeness. I'm still pondering...

Classes for Wives

Okay, so recently when the AJC had an article about the "classes" for pastors' wives at a denominational seminary which shall remain nameless, I scoffed...as did I'm sure most of you. And I was angry. Livid. Then I got on with my life. But as I've lived through my husband's first two years of ministry, I have decided that there are some classes from which I would have benefitted. Here are some examples:

* How to be Carrie Underwood / Tammy Wynette and Still Maintain Your Independence (you know...Stand by Your Man!)
* The Pastor's (or in our case Pastors') Night Out (I've discovered what works best often reminds me of a Jimmy Buffet song, which I cannot name here because, well, I am the pastor's wife...)
* How to Teach your Children to Respect their Elders when the Elders (as in older people, not church leaders) Don't Always Show Respect to Others
* How To Love In Spite Of...
* How to Flick Someone Off Without Being Noticed
* How to Make a Casserole in Under Ten Minutes
* How to Look Like All is Well Even When It's So Very Far From It
* How to Make the Fat Lady Sing (you know, so it will be over, already!)
* How to State Your Mind without Opening Your Mouth (bumper stickers work for me...)
* How to Make Sure Church Remains Safe and Fun for your Kids In Spite of the Evil Within(this is a serious one...)
* What to Say When People Think Your Spouse Does it for the Money

So that's it for now. I'm sure I will think of more as the days go by, and will add them as I am able. Until then, your suggestions for teachers or teaching tips are much appreciated!